Sermon 5 Lent Yr B

5 Lent Yr B, 29/03/2009

Heb 5:5-10

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Jesus’ obedience and suffering and ours”

 

The Letter to the Hebrews is a mysterious and bit strange. We don’t know for certain who wrote it, a few scholars have even speculated that it was written by a woman. Another thing mysterious and strange about it is that it’s called a letter, yet when we read carefully and analyse it’s genre, we discover that in content and mood, Hebrews is closer to a theological treatise or sermon or series of sermons than it is a letter. What the author sets out to do is make the point that Jesus, his sacrifice, and the new covenant is better than the old covenant, the Levitical priesthood and its sacrificial system. Another concern the writer addresses, quite bluntly, is that of a growing inertia within the faith community to whom he or she is writing. The faith community most likely consisted primarily of Jewish Christians because of the author’s familiarity with and frequent references to the Hebrew Bible. We cannot be certain of the exact situation in the faith community. However, it seems there are two compelling possibilities. The faith community is under persecution and is tempted to give up the Christian faith because they may falsely believe that it should prevent them from facing such sufferings. Or the faith community is feeling hurt and rejected by their families after they became Christians and this is tempting them to give up on Christ and their new faith and return to their Jewish faith.

In today’s second lesson, the writer focuses on Christ’s high priesthood. The author emphasises a couple of things: that Christ was chosen by God to be a high priest and it is a permanent-eternal high priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek. The writer quotes two Psalms, 2:7 and 110:4, to underscore Christ’s high priesthood. Both Psalms are interpreted to refer to the Messiah and emphasise the divine, permanent nature of Christ’s high priesthood.

The author does not stop with Christ’s divinity. Christ’s humanity is also very important. The writer says: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” The author, although not specific, likely is remembering the Gospel accounts that record those times when Jesus wept over Jerusalem, wept over Lazarus’ death, and prayed with much agony in Gethsemane asking his heavenly Father to remove the cup of suffering from him. In Gethsemane, even though Jesus prayed, it is not true that God saved him from death, nor was his prayer heard to remove the cup of suffering from him. The author may have in mind here God giving Christ the strength to endure his suffering and death on the cross and God’s power at work through Christ’s resurrection, which vindicated his suffering and death.

This makes sense in light of what the writer says in verses eight and nine: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” In the human life of Jesus, we discover that obedience is learned from his suffering. The more Jesus suffers, the more he turns to his heavenly Father for help and guidance. In Gethsemane he prays: “not what I want but what you want,” accepting the suffering and agonizing death on the cross that he is about to face. The writer of Hebrews wants to encourage his or her faith community in their sufferings, so learning obedience from suffering is the example of Christ that the community of faith can draw on. The community of faith can, like Jesus, learn obedience from their sufferings. We too can learn obedience from our sufferings.

Here is the story of one Christian, who learned obedience from his suffering, and we, like countless others are still inspired by his life and work as a faithful follower of Christ.

After various moves and prominent jobs, [classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach] finally settled down in Leipzig in 1723, where he remained for the rest of his life….Bach’s stay in Leipzig, as musical director and choirmaster of Saint Thomas’s church and school, wasn’t always happy. He squabbled continually with the town council, and neither the council nor the populace appreciated his musical genius. They said he was a stuffy old man who clung stubbornly to obsolete forms of music. Consequently, they paid him a miserable salary, and when he died even contrived to defraud his widow of her meager inheritance.

Ironically, in this setting Bach wrote his most enduring music. For a time he wrote a cantata each week (today, a composer who writes a cantata a year is highly praised), 202 of which survive. Most conclude with a chorale based on a simple Lutheran hymn, and the music is at all times closely bound to biblical texts. Among these works are the “Ascension Cantata” and the “Christmas Oratorio.”

In Leipzig he also composed his epic “Mass in B Minor,” “The Passion of St. John,” and “The Passion of St. Matthew”–all for use as worship services. The latter piece has sometimes been called “the supreme cultural achievement of all Western civilization,” and even the radical skeptic Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) admitted upon hearing it, “One who has completely forgotten Christianity truly hears it here as gospel.”

After Bach’s death, people seemed glad to wipe their ears of his music. He was remembered less as a composer than as an organist and harpsichordist. Some of his music was sold, and some was reportedly used to wrap garbage. For the next 80 years his music was neglected by the public, although a few musicians (Mozart and Beethoven, for example) admired it. Not until 1829, when German composer Felix Mendelssohn arranged a performance of “The Passion of St. Matthew,” did a larger audience appreciate Bach the composer.1

In the midst of Bach’s suffering and hardships, he learned obedience. Before he started his compositions, Bach would pray: “Jesus help me,” and at the end of his compositions he would write the letters: “SDG,” shorthand for the Latin words Soli Deo Gloria, “to God alone be the glory.” Christ’s learning of obedience through his suffering inspired Bach to learn obedience through his suffering too by trusting in his suffering Saviour for inspiration to compose his beautiful musical works.

I know the same is true for me in my life too. In times of suffering I have learned how important it is to be obedient to Christ. Thanks to him, I have overcome those times of suffering. I’m sure you too have stories you can tell about how Christ his helped you and been with you so that you too have learned to be obedient to Christ and overcome your times of suffering.

In today’s world, the words obey and obedience are not very popular. I know, as some feminist theologians have correctly pointed out, that the reason for the negative press is how obey and obedience were employed by men in the past to justify the abuse, misuse and control over women and children. As people of faith we need to acknowledge the truth of this observation by the feminist theologians and repent of the sins committed under the pretext of obey and obedience in the biblical sense. However, this does not necessarily mean that we must drop the words obey and obedience from our vocabulary. Rather, it is our task to rediscover the positive and hopeful biblical meanings of these words. In the biblical sense of obey and obedience, we emphasise accepting the will and authority of God and Christ over us as we endeavour to live a life of faith by loving God and loving neighbour. In a positive, hopeful way, the apostle Paul spoke of sufferings teaching us obedience insofar as “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Rom 5:3-5) And he later goes on to say in chapter five that thanks to Christ’s perfect obedience to God, all people of faith are made righteous.

So during this season of Lent, we live under the shadow of Christ’s cross, which is the epitome of God’s saving love for us through perfect obedience. A perfect obedience that completes and brings to full maturity the love of God for us today and forever. Amen.

 

 

1 Cited from: Perfect Illustrations For Every Topic And Occasion (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2002), pp. 262-263.

 

 

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Sermon 4 Lent Yr B

4 Lent Yr B, 22/03/2009

Jn 3:14-21

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Whoever believes in Jesus”

 

The man who was bishop of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during the early part of the last century, was a great evangelizer. He tried to reach out to unbelievers, scoffers, and cynics. He liked to tell the story of a young man who would stand outside the cathedral and shout derogatory slogans at the people entering to worship. He would call them fools and all kinds of names. The people tried to ignore him but it was difficult.

One day the parish priest went outside to confront the young man, much to the distress of the parishioners. The young man ranted and raved against everything the priest told him. Finally, he addressed the young scoffer by saying, “Look, let’s get this over with once and for all. I’m going to dare you to do something and I bet you can’t do it.” And of course the young man shot back, “I can do anything you propose, you white-robed wimp!”

“Fine,” said the priest. “All I ask you to do is to come into the sanctuary with me. I want you to stare at the figure of Christ, and I want you to scream at the very top of your lungs, as loudly as you can, ‘Christ died on the cross for me and I don’t care one bit.’”

So the young man went into the sanctuary, and screamed as loud as he could, looking at the figure, “Christ died on the cross for me and I don’t care one bit.” The priest said, “Very good. Now do it again.” And again the young man screamed, with a little more hesitancy, “Christ died on the cross for me and I don’t care one bit.” You’re almost done now,” said the priest. “One more time.”

The young man raised his fist, kept looking at the statue, but the words wouldn’t come. He just could not look at the face of Christ and say that any more.

The real punch line came when, after he told the story, the bishop said, “I was that young man. That young man, that defiant young man was me. I thought I didn’t need God, but found out that I did.”1

You, like the young man who became bishop, may have a similar story concerning your crisis of doubt and belief in Christ. What I find interesting in this story is the irresistible drawing power of believing in Christ on the cross.

Having faith in God, believing in Christ, trusting the Holy Spirit—that’s a central theme in our gospel today. I don’t know if you noticed it or were even counting, but the words believe, believes, and believed occur five times. In this conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus emphasises the importance of believing in him as the “lifted up” Saviour of the world. The Gospel of John is very fond of the word believe, it appears over one hundred times. Of course, there are many different ways that we employ the word believe. The word believe has many different meanings. What did it mean for the gospel writer John who was so fond of this word? What does it mean for us today?

I like the following way that a medical doctor speaks of beliefs: A label is a mask life wears.

We put labels on life all the time. “Right,” “wrong,” “success,” “failure,” “lucky,” “unlucky,” may be as limiting a way of seeing things as “diabetic,” “epileptic,” “manic-depressive,” or even “invalid.” Labelling sets up an expectation of life that is often so compelling we can no longer see things as they really are. This expectation often gives us a false sense of familiarity toward something that is really new and unprecedented. We are in relationship with our expectations and not with life itself.

Which brings up the idea that we may become as wounded by the way in which we see an illness as by the illness itself. Belief traps or frees us. Labels may become self-fulfilling prophecies. Studies of voodoo death suggest that in certain circumstances belief may even kill.

We may need to take our labels and even our experts far more lightly. Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen tells the story of a gentlemen who was diagnosed with cancer. He did not deny that he had cancer. He had just taken the same attitude toward his physician’s prognosis that he took toward the words of the government soil experts who analyzed his fields. As they were educated men, he respected them and listened carefully as they showed him the findings of their tests and told him that the corn would not grow in this field. He valued their opinions. But, he said, “A lot of time the corn grows anyway.”

In my experience, a diagnosis is an opinion and not a prediction. What would it be like if more people allowed for the presence of the unknown, and accepted the words of their medical experts in this same way? The diagnosis is cancer. What that will mean remains to be seen.

Like a diagnosis, a label is an attempt to assert control and manage uncertainty. It may allow us the security and comfort of a mental closure and encourage us not to think about things again. But life never comes to a closure, life is process, even mystery. Life is known only by those who have found a way to be comfortable with change and the unknown. Given the nature of life, there may be no security, but only adventure.2

As followers of Jesus, believing in him involves being open to change and the unknown. Our life with Jesus may not be secure by worldly standards. Believing in Jesus means living life as one adventure after another—not necessarily knowing for certain what the future holds. We do however know who holds the future and whom we are adventuring with—Jesus, the Saviour who is lifted up and who draws us to himself through his being lifted up onto the cross and three days later being lifted up on the day of resurrection.

So, looking back at today’s gospel again, here’s what it means for us to believe, to trust in Jesus as the lifted up Saviour, we: “may have eternal life; may not perish but may have eternal life. Those who believe in him are not condemned.”

Now the act of believing, the act of trusting in Jesus more than anyone or anything in life is also a gift given to us from God. We cannot do this by ourselves. We cannot save ourselves. God in Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the word and the sacraments, the death and resurrection of Jesus save us. We believe this is true only because God gives us the gift of belief. Now that we’ve been given this gift of believing in Jesus we respond first by praising and thanking him for the gift; then by serving him with our lives.

As we celebrate the gift of believing in Jesus; in thanking, praising and serving him with our lives; we discover that what the gospel writer meant by eternal life is a life that begins right now. Eternal life in the Fourth Gospel does not only mean life after death; life in the world to come; heaven. No, eternal life in this Gospel means life right now. Life right now in all of its richness. Eternal life means we live under the power and influence of faith, hope and love; the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit. Faith means we believe in Jesus more than anyone or anything else in life. Hope means our future is not our own. Rather, we place our lives in Christ’s hands who holds and determines the future. Love means that we can take risks to care for others in unselfish ways the same way Jesus did in his public ministry. He is our perfect example of how we can love one another. The words of one of my favourite Lenten hymns comes to mind: “Love to the loveless shown, That they might lovely be.”3 We don’t deserve Christ’s love, yet he loves us unconditionally and makes us “lovely” in God’s eyes, thanks to his death on the cross. We may think that our neighbour doesn’t deserve our love, yet Christ calls us to follow his example and love our neighbour unconditionally; and in so doing they too “might lovely be.” Love is an adventure in living for Jesus and for others; giving of ourselves sacrificially. In so doing we discover how Christ’s being lifted up saves us and our neighbour as our believing, our faith is active, becomes real in love. Amen.

 

1 Wm. J. Bausch, A World Of Stories for Preachers and Teachers and all who love stories that move and challenge (New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications & Blackrock, Co Dublin: The Columba Press, Eighth Printing, 2007), pp. 244-245.

2 Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996), pp. 66-67.

3 Hymn #94, in LBW, “My Song Is Love Unknown,” by Samuel Crossman.

 

 

Challenge for our Lenten journey

Challenge for our Lenten journey

I came across this challenge in Morten Kelsey’s Healing & Christianity, which he was given at a conference on healing by someone who did not know the name of the author. I have been unable to locate the author too. So from the wise and loving author Anonymous, here is a worthy Lenten challenge for us all:

 

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out for another is to risk involvement.

To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.

To place your ideas, your dreams, before a crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return.

To live is to risk dying.

To hope is to risk despair.

To try to heal is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, and is nothing.

They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.

Chained by their attitudes, they are a slave, they have forfeited their freedom.

Only a person who risks is free.

 

Lord have mercy.

Save Sylvan Lake from residential over development

Save Sylvan Lake from residential over development

Gentle readers, here is an opportunity for you to be advocates for the environmental health and well-being of Sylvan Lake for future generations. There is much pressure from land development people to ruin a beautiful natural lake and its surroundings. If you live in Alberta and have not visited our Lutheran Camp Kuriokos, located at the west end of Sylvan Lake, I encourage you to do so. Please visit this website to download letters to fax and mail to the appropriate Alberta government MLAs: http://www.savesylvanlake.ca/

Thank you and blessings!